Sunday, December 22, 2013
Homily for Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Sunday in Advent)
John 1:19-28; Philippians 4:4-7; Deuteronomy 18:15-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Are you the Christ?” “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?” They asked. John answered them, “No.” Their suppositions were good ones, scriptural ones even, however, those titles had come to be loaded with false expectations founded, not in God’s Word, but in man’s fallen reason and wisdom. For, “Christ,” “Elijah,” “the Prophet,” these could mean any number of things to any number of persons or groups. And, to the priests and the Pharisees, they meant a threat to their control of the people. Therefore, they were watching and they were waiting for the Messiah to arrive, not in hopeful expectation, but with wary concern. And, when He came, they would watch him closely and they would test him. They would judge whether he fit the bill or not – the bill that they had contrived according to their fallen reason and wisdom, not according to the holy scriptures of God.
Thus, John answered them, “No.” “No, I am not the Christ.” “No, I am not Elijah.” “And, neither am I the Prophet.” And, when they asked him, “Then, who are you?” He proclaimed to them the Word of God saying, “I am the voice prophesied of by Isaiah.” John proclaimed to them, “No, I am not any of those falsely contrived titles that you name, but I am the fulfillment of God’s Word even as I speak to you right now.” I am not who you say that I am, but I am who God says that I am. My purpose is to prepare sinners to receive the true Messiah when He soon comes. I will prepare them by baptizing the repentant that they may be forgiven their sins when He comes. For, when He comes, He will baptize, not with water alone, but with the Holy Spirit of God. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals.”
“By what authority, then, do you baptize,” they questioned John, “if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” This is the same question they would later ask of Jesus Himself, for preserving their own authority, power, and control was foremost on their minds and hearts. John answered them plainly, telling them to simply observe what he was doing: “I baptize with water.” “I am not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but I am a man pouring water over the heads of repentant sinners. The One you look for is coming after me, indeed, He is amongst you right now! But you don’t recognize Him because you are looking for the wrong things. Though He, too, is a man like me, I assure you that I am not worthy to untie the straps of His sandals. I baptize with water those who repent, and they are forgiven. But, they are forgiven, not because of me, but because of the One who comes after me. I am here before you today that you may receive Him when He comes. However, you do not receive me, therefore, you will not receive Him.” Christ’s redemption was the basis of the means of grace that John delivered in his baptism. Without this redemption, no means of grace could exist. Thus, John’s work consisted in applying a means of grace that rested upon a far mightier act.
John was the forerunner prophesied of in the Scriptures. He is not the forerunner contrived of man’s fallen reason and wisdom. And, neither will the Messiah, the Christ, be the Christ contrived of by man’s fallen reason and wisdom. Therefore, in true forerunner zeal, John prepared the way for the coming of the Christ. This preparation consisted not only of repentance for sins, though that was surely the greater part, but it consisted of changing fallen man’s expectations about the forerunner and about the Christ. John was calling all of Israel to turn back, to return to God, to return to His Word. That is why he lived in the wilderness; that is why he was preaching and baptizing at the Jordan. He was calling Israel to repentance in the wilderness, where God had called His people to repentance so many centuries earlier. He was calling them out into the wilderness that they might repent and be baptized, crossing over the Jordan once again into the Promised Land of God’s grace and forgiveness.
In this way, John the forerunner is akin to Moses: He lived in the wilderness near the Jordan, he called God’s people to repentance, and he made his stand before a king. Additionally, while Moses was supposed to lead God’s people through the Jordan into the Promised Land, because of his sin, that charge was given to his successor Joshua (Yeshua), whose name in Greek is Jesus (Iēsous); thus, Moses served as the forerunner for Joshua, even as John was the forerunner for Jesus, who would lead God’s people out of captivity and bondage to sin by means of baptism into His death and resurrection into the Promised Land of heaven. Therefore, while Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy eighteen surely refers to Jesus – “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers” – it surely refers to the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist, as well.
The Christ comes, in precisely the way the Scriptures have said He would come. But, we have become blinded by our reason and confounded in our wisdom. The Baptist calls us to repentance still that we might not reject the LORD’s Messiah, but receive Him with faith in our hearts. Still the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord by preaching repentance that the hills of our pride might be leveled and the valleys of our despair might be filled in. He is Emmanuel, God with us, God as one of us, born of woman, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Do not look for another. He comes in humility, and lowliness, bringing the mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of God, His kingdom.
Yet, this is precisely why men reject Him. Though He terrifies us and makes us run in fear for our lives, we think we want the God of Sinai with His fire, thunderings, earthquakes, and lightnings. But, in His mercy, He gives a Savior, meek and mild, a God we may approach and touch and not die, a God who is our advocate, defender, and friend, who intercedes for us with pleas, obedience, and self-sacrifice unto death in our place. No, we were not prepared to receive our God, His Messiah, His Christ. Thanks be to God that He sent us John. Thanks be to God that He still sends to us His undershepherds to call us to repentance and to speak to us His forgiveness and peace. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” The Lord has come as the Babe of Bethlehem. He has fulfilled God’s holy Law for you and He has suffered the death you deserved as due penalty for your sin, removing its sting forever. He is God’s peace with mankind of which the angels sang. He is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. May your hearts and minds be guarded in Jesus Christ.
In the +Name of Jesus. Amen.